Philippines government launches investigation into alleged human trafficking in Gulf

Philippines government launches investigation into alleged human trafficking in Gulf

Posted on February 18, 2013 at 11:27 PM

Updated Monday, Feb 18 at 11:40 PM

Brendan McCarthy / Eyewitness News
Email: | Twitter: @bmccarthyWWL

NEW ORLEANS -- The Philippines government has opened an investigation into Grand Isle Shipyard and recruitment companies linked to its executives.

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Grand Isle Shipyard, an oilfield contracting company in Galliano, has been at the center of a WWL-TV Eyewitness Investigation examining the company’s use of Filipino guest workers and the system in which they are brought here.

Hans Cacdac, the head of the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration, confirmed in an email he initiated the investigation. Cacdac’s agency regulates and manages the country’s foreign worker programs.

Grand Isle Shipyard, an oilfield contracting company based in Galliano, has subcontracted hundreds of Filipino workers in recent years. They are pipefitters, welders, scaffolders. Dozens of them claim they were lied to, forced to work upwards of 400 hours a month, their passports held by their employer.

We went to the Philippines last month and found a troubled system in which Filipinos were recruited and funneled to bayou machine shops and offshore oil platforms. Our “Pipeline to the Platform” series uncovered immigration paperwork based on lies, workers with multiple and fake social security numbers.

Three Filipino guest workers died, and three others critically injured, in an oil platform explosion in November in the Gulf of Mexico. These men were contracted to Grand Isle Shipyard.

Now, the Philippine government is looking into possible violations by two Philippines-based recruitment companies – DNR and IPAMS -- that fed workers to Grand Isle Shipyard. The probe is also examining Grand Isle for a possible breach of contract and overseas employment rules.

The government agency will set a hearing date and require the companies to appear. If found guilty, the companies could be suspended or banned from employing Filipino workers.

In an interview last month in his office, Cacdac said he was concerned about the links between the companies and what has been uncovered in earlier reports. He has recently been in contact with attorneys for some of the Filipino men who were recruited and worked at Grand Isle. And Cacdac is obtaining affidavits in order to learn more.

Grand Isle’s CEO, Mark Pregeant, has refused to respond to our specific inquiries over the last two months. His attorney previously issued a statement saying the Filipino workers were not employed directly by Grand Isle, but through a Filipino recruiter – DNR – and a separate Louisiana subcontractor.

But we’ve uncovered documents in which Filipino workers are identified as Grand Isle employees. In fact, Pregeant called them his employees in an interview with us last November, in the wake of the deadly oil platform explosion. Also, the newsletter of DNR Offshore and Crewing Services, the recruitment company, states explicitly that Grand Isle created it.


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In addition, state public records show that Grand Isle executives invested and had ties to companies that were used to recruit Filipinos for Grand Isle.

Grand Isle’s attorney, David Korn, also called the allegations of human trafficking "totally false."

Yet, in recent weeks, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a non-investigative federal agency, has issued human trafficking visas to former Grand Isle workers still in Louisiana. About 14 men received these visas, which labels them victims of human trafficking and allows them to stay longer in the country to seek out work.

The U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Agency will not say whether they are looking into the case.

Grand Isle’s attorney has not responded to our most recent request for comment regarding the investigation by the government of the Philippines.